Words by Elizabeth Zach, The Washington Post
For many years, news about drug crimes and kidnappings eclipsed Cuernavaca’s storied past, frightening off tourists. But more recently, travel advisories have been scaled back. So, with visions of opulent Hollywood Golden Era mansions in my head, I planned a one-night getaway to Cuernavaca as part of a winter escape to Mexico City.
A driver, arranged by a friend, picked me up for the one hour trip along the Mexico-Cuernavaca highway to what the 19th-century German explorer Alexander von Humboldt referred to as “la ciudad de la eternal primavera,” or the city of eternal spring.
We drove up into the verdant hills above Mexico City until the capital vanished from sight. The road turned serpentine, eventually reaching an elevation of 5,000 feet amid ravines and thick pine groves. Then, as we descended into the valley, I could see Cuernavaca, capital of the state of Morelos in the distance.
Deposited at my hotel, I climbed the terra-cotta steps leading through the garden entryway and patio, and immediately knew I’d be reluctant to leave.
My room at La Casa Azul, which shares its name with artist Frida Kahlo’s startlingly blue Mexico City abode, was equally intimate and tasteful, furnished with beautiful folkloric tapestries and carved wooden furniture.
After lunch, I strolled to the Plaza de Armas, where I bought an ice cream cone from one of the several vendors parked around the edges. Perched on a wrought-iron bench, I watched children cling to balloons and scamper among their parents, who were deep in animated debate, and the comings and goings of newspaper vendors and older men having their shoes shined. I realised then that instead of experiencing Hollywood’s glamour days, it was as if I’d stepped into one of Kahlo’s folkloric pageants.
I took my time at the museum with the detailed displays on the indigenous Tlahuica, who arrived in the Morelos Valley around 1200 and were conquered first by the Aztecs, who were conquered by the Spanish. I began in a room dedicated to fossils found throughout the area, then viewed intricate stone carvings and funeral regalia from the colonial era, as well as an exhibition conveying the breadth and totality of the European occupation.
On the second floor, I found Diego Rivera’s immense, impressive 1930 mural, which depicts in sweeping fashion the history of Morelos, the Spanish conquest and the Mexican Revolution, which grew out of a 1910 peasant uprising in the state.
As the sun was nearly setting, I visited the 16th-century Catedral de la Asuncion de Maria. Unlike other such churches of the era, it is not planted at the city’s main plaza; instead, it’s in an enclosed compound a few blocks away.
My last stop before heading back to Mexico City the following afternoon, was the Museo Robert Brady inside Casa de la Torre, the former home of an American artist, collector and expatriate who settled in Cuernavaca in 1962. It showcases the bon vivant’s excellent and chic collection, which includes more than 1,300 pieces of native and colonial art, antiques and furniture, as well as works by Kahlo and Miguel Covarrubias.
The generous, stunning collection in a mansion proved a natural denouement to my stay in Cuernavaca, which had been inspired by my curiosity about a bygone era of exotic and gilded glamour. In Brady’s gorgeous villa, I put aside thoughts of the drug violence, border conflicts and trade disputes of today, and revelled, however briefly, in Cuernavaca’s eternal spring.
If you go:
Where to stay
Hotel Boutique & Spa La Casa Azul
Where to eat
La India Bonita
What to do
Museo Casa Robert Brady